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US Senate Passes 'Libel Tourism' Bill 467

Posted by kdawson
from the words-you-never-heard-in-the-bible dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "AFP reports that the US Senate has passed (by a 'unanimous consent' voice vote) a bill that prevents US federal courts from recognizing or enforcing a foreign judgment for defamation that is inconsistent with the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of speech. If the bill becomes law it will shield US journalists, authors, and publishers from 'libel tourists' who file suit in countries where they expect to get the most favorable ruling. 'While we cannot legislate changes to foreign law that are chilling protected speech in our country, we can ensure that our courts do not become a tool to uphold foreign libel judgments that undermine American First Amendment or due process rights,' said Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy. Backers of the bill have cited England, Brazil, Australia, Indonesia, and Singapore as places where weak libel safeguards attract lawsuits that unfairly harm US journalists, writers, and publishers. The popular legislation is headed to the House of Representatives, which is expected to approve it. 'This bill is a needed first step to ensure that weak free-speech protections and abusive legal practices in foreign countries do not prevent Americans from fully exercising their constitutional right to speak and debate freely,' said Senator Jeff Sessions, the top Republican on Leahy's committee."
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US Senate Passes 'Libel Tourism' Bill

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  • by Dominic (3849) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:23AM (#32976152) Homepage

    Good on you, Americans. So, now can you stop complaining if we try to stop our courts enforcing *your* mad decisions, like Gary McKinnon?

  • Good (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Yvanhoe (564877) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:25AM (#32976184) Journal
    Now that one can do investigation journalism in US, reverse-engineering in Finland, publish leaks in Sweden could we please recognize that preventing the publication of a file on internet is utterly silly ?

    There are several projects of a "bill of rights" for "the virtual place named internet". One will maybe stick. Information may not want to be anthropomorphized, but a lot of people surely want it to be free.
  • by NotBornYesterday (1093817) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:35AM (#32976270) Journal
    WTF is with the flamebait mod? I might or might not argue the Gary McKinnon question, but Dominic's point is on topic, valid, and does not appear to be designed to provoke an angry response. Please stop using mod points for "-1, Disagree".
  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:36AM (#32976286) Homepage

    Now that is news!

    And more seriously, this is definitely useful, because otherwise a foreign country could set up rules that heavily favors the plaintiff and abuse US citizens for, say, writing negatively about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Posh Spice.

  • Re:Wowsa (Score:4, Insightful)

    by mcvos (645701) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:38AM (#32976300)

    Now all we need is for other countries to protect their citizens from similar patent tourism.

  • Re:Good (Score:5, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:52AM (#32976448) Homepage Journal

    Now that one can do investigation journalism in US, reverse-engineering in Finland, publish leaks in Sweden could we please recognize that preventing the publication of a file on internet is utterly silly ?

    Nope. Servers live places. The people who do the uploading live places. The people who run the servers can be punished. The people who do the uploading can be punished. There's no legal basis for your theory that criminalizing the publication of a file on the internet (I assume that's what you meant since nobody is preventing the publication of anything, if I assume incorrectly please let me know WTF you were thinking) is "silly". First we'd need to throw away IP law entirely, which is pretty much the opposite of what is going on in the world today. A significant part of IP law is written into international conventions to which the USA and GB are both signatories.

  • by The AtomicPunk (450829) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:52AM (#32976452)

    If you think the republicans have a monopoly on censorship, you've had your head buried in the sand too long.

    Heard of the fairness doctrine?

  • Re:Hmmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by stonewallred (1465497) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:55AM (#32976492)
    NC, you can get married at 14. Plus you can marry your first cousin. And North Carolina is far from a Catholic state. In fact up until recently it was considered a missionary posting for Roman Catholic clergy.
  • by ByOhTek (1181381) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @08:56AM (#32976494) Journal

    Sorry, hacking into secure military sites - and not just for UFO information (seems more paranoia than anything else, even if a bit of a benign case).

    His case makes sense to me (as would be the case if a Brittan, France, Germany, Brazil, Japan, whoever wanted a US citizen for a similar premise, I'd say 'send him/her over...'

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:02AM (#32976552)

    There's something a lot of folks have missed:

    Since when did our courts have either the jurisdiction or authority to enforce foreign judgments that are Constitutionally inconsistent to begin with?

    Why did anyone *ever* think that was acceptable or feasible?

    That's a serious question, with a *fascinating* answer for anyone with the perseverance to dig until they find it, the honesty to accept it, and the bravery to confront the meaning.

  • by dbkluck (731449) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:05AM (#32976586)
    While I of course applaud the aims of this particular legislation, I think Senator Sessions may not like the consequences of starting an international game of "we won't recognize your court judgments because of your 'abusive legal system.'" The US legal systems for IP and class action recovery are the poster-children for 'abusive', and at a time when so much of the US economy depends on IP lawsuits (to say nothing of some no-doubt imminent class action suits against a certain British oil company), being the first to start ignoring foreign court judgments on principle might prove ill-advised.
  • by Conchobair (1648793) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:11AM (#32976640)
    As far as Catholics, they have and still do require at least 16 y/o for males, 14 y/o for females. Which is more stringent requirements than the laws of some existing states. Really in most societies couples got married a lot earlier than people do now adays.
  • by IBBoard (1128019) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:11AM (#32976644) Homepage

    to say nothing of some no-doubt imminent class action suits against a certain British oil company

    There are potential law suits against a British oil company? I didn't realise we still had any. I know there are former British companies that are now multi-national conglomerates, and I know they're having issues that could lead to legal situations, but I didn't know there was another oil company in a similar situation.

    From my American informants, apparently only Fox is still making that mistake and most TV stations have started intentionally correcting themselves ;)

  • by MoonBuggy (611105) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:13AM (#32976668) Journal

    For the sake of argument, let's say that we all agree that the crime occurred on US soil (and even that is by no means a unanimous opinion). The UK will only allow the extradition of they believe that he will receive a fair trial and (if found guilty) a reasonable punishment for the crimes he has been accused of.

    This is a man with some psychological problems who appears to have made a very very stupid decision by breaking in to some poorly secured US government computers. There was little actual harm done. The consensus seems to be that in the UK he would receive a slap on the wrist, maybe some psychiatric treatment, perhaps some limitations on his future access to computers. At the time he faced a maximum of six months in a UK prison.

    The US are calling him a terrorist, and lining him up for the distinct possibility of several decades, maybe even life, in a federal prison.

    Do you believe he would get off lightly if extradited to the US, or do you think he would be made an example of? If the former, why? If the latter, do you think it is still fair to extradite him?

  • Re:Confused (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NotBornYesterday (1093817) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:15AM (#32976704) Journal
    Incumbency. The pols who voted this through are facing reelection in November. Nothing is as red, white, and blue as defending the Constitution.
  • by fnj (64210) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:17AM (#32976730)

    On the contrary, from my point of view, the Democrats are much bigger on censorship (such as so-called "hate speech", AKA opinions) and political correctness than the Republicans, but let's not fight. These opposing fundamental viewpoints are really not arguable effectively; i.e., stating this one way or the other will never sway anyone on the other side. Can we just agree that it is very gratifying that both sides of the aisle joined together on this?

  • by NotBornYesterday (1093817) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:18AM (#32976736) Journal
    AFAIK, none of those companies (with the possible fringe example of Disney) are in an industry where libel is a serious issue.
  • by Dr.Merkwurdigeliebe (1055918) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:20AM (#32976750) Homepage
    Or Marc Emery, for that matter. It seems a little stupid to send a man to jail for 20+ years for doing something in his own country that would cost him a $250 fine.
  • by fnj (64210) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:30AM (#32976878)

    I have profound sympathy with the citizens of all foreign lands on which these pernicious obscenities such as DMCA have spread. But I must tell the citizens of these foreign lands this: look to your own corruptocracies, and not the US corruptocracy, as the guilty parties in this matter. The US does not have the power to dictate legislation to foreign lands.

  • by JoshuaZ (1134087) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:36AM (#32976940) Homepage

    Raises an interesting question, am I the only one who thinks we'd be better of as a world if the UN Bill of Rights was as absolute in it's protections as particular clauses in some of our constitutions (like the first in America for example) and ALL U.N. member states were REQUIRED to implement it as part of their own constitutions (and where no constitution exists as in Britain be required to create one and make said bill of rights the entirey there-off ?)

    Considering that there's been a push multiple times by many countries in the UN to make religious beliefs protected from ridicule and blasphemy http://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2008/1113/p09s02-coop.html [csmonitor.com] this would lead to bad stuff very quickly. Also, note that not having a constitution works ok. Britain protects most rights pretty well compared to most of the world, and in some respects does a better job protecting rights than the US does. However, both Syria and Jordan have written protection of free speech in their constitutions and that doesn't really do much. What is on paper doesn't matter as much as wide institutional issues. Don't force written constitutions on other countries just because that happens to have worked well for the US.

  • by Dominic (3849) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:37AM (#32976950) Homepage

    I wasn't being anti-American. I applaud this move, as I think our libel laws are stupid and should indeed be ignored.

    I was merely pointing-out that most suggestions by British people on Slashdot that the US are out for blood when it comes to McKinnon are usually greeted by "He broke our rules!" sort of rants. You can't have it both ways - every country makes stupid laws, and when they start trying to force them to be applied in other countries, a line has been crossed. In our case it's our stupid libel laws, and in the case of the US it's their stupid 'McKinnon is a terrorist' nonsense.

    Not every criticism of America is 'anti-American trolling', you know.

  • by couchslug (175151) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:37AM (#32976952)

    I approve of any measure that enhances national sovereignty. The world is far too corrupt for the idea of world government by treaty to be anything but a way to screw people who obey those treaties, so the sooner nations reject the laws of others the better.

    "The US legal systems for IP and class action recovery are the poster-children for 'abusive',"

    International law itself is abuse, because it is internal government of nations by treaty with other nations while excluding voters. Such concessions should have to pass the test of becoming Constitutional amendments (effectively killing them) to be enforced.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:52AM (#32977136)

    The US does not have the power to dictate legislation to foreign lands.

    Unfortunately, this does not stop the U.S. from trying to do so, at gunpoint if necessary.

  • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworldNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:52AM (#32977158) Homepage
    These are far worse crimes, and the US refused to hand them over to other countries for trial.

    Well, not really "other countries" plural, just one, Italy. Which, as the Knox trial showed, does not have a functioning justice system.
  • by jonadab (583620) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:56AM (#32977194) Homepage Journal
    > I thought [Republicans] were the party that's big on censoring.

    Not that kind of censorship.

    Republicans want to censor porn (which a few of them define to include basic nudity in any vaguely sexual context). Democrats want to censor hate speech (which some of them define to include such things as saying that homosexuality is wrong). Neither major party in the US wants to censor the kind of thing this bill is about.
  • Re:Hmmm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mcvos (645701) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @10:05AM (#32977306)

    Yes, but only from law suits. It will not protect you from actual bombers or bullets. --This is not really a joke because it is way to accurate.

    You're exaggerating. As far as I know not a single shot has been fired anywhere on earth because of a picture.

    Does a moving picture count? Because Theo van Gogh has definitely been shot. (8 times. And then stabbed.)

  • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworldNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @10:10AM (#32977370) Homepage
    Your freedom of opinion does not INCLUDE the freedom to think I or anybody else is less than you.

    Yes. Yes, it does.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @10:14AM (#32977416)

    Your freedom of opinion does not INCLUDE the freedom to think

    Stop right there. You have no right over my own thoughts, and you never will. Fuck off, "silentcoder."

  • by myocardialinfarction (1606123) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @10:16AM (#32977436)
    Have the example of Warren Anderson: arrested and charged with manslaughter over the Union Carbide disaster at Bhopal, India. He skipped bail, returned to the US and lawyered up. Extradition was subsequently defeated on the basis of 'insufficient evidence'. _The incident was in India. It was a matter for Indian courts, and the man had the best lawyers in the world_. The point being that US courts have a mandate to interpret and enforce law IN THE US. And nowhere else.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @10:25AM (#32977520)

    I hate this straw man argument. "Hate speech" is not illegal in the United States, and no bill in my memory has made it out of committee suggesting such. Hate Crimes are illegal for the same reason that racketeering is illegal; it uses a crime against an individual to promote fear amongst a larger group of people. It is perpetuating a crime against a group with the intent of either A) making them want to move or B) be afraid to be involved in local society.

    The second side to this stupid argument is that political correctness is not a law. No one is denying you the right to use insulting racist words. Political correctness is a part of being polite in modern society. Your company might demand that you be politically correct at work, in the same way that they demand you wear real shoes and not flip-flops. I find it positively infuriating that people see the idea of political correctness as treading upon their rights more than say... local noise ordinances.

    What makes what you're saying all the worse is that it's a false equivocation too. "Democrats are bad because of all these laws I imagine they'd pass"

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @10:32AM (#32977634)

    The founding documents are not law in the U.S. except for the Constitution; neither are the personal views of the founding fathers. As much as I think you're right in a moral and ethical sense, the letter of the law in the U.S. is that you are entitled to your own opinions and speech - ALWAYS, regardless of the validity of what you say/think and if it offends anyone. Civil liberties groups like the ACLU exist, in part, to defend speech even when it is hurtful and unpopular. Legal precedent states that the only speech which is ever punishable is something like the old "yelling fire in a public theater" example.

    So yeah, you're just wrong. And judging from some of the religious defamation laws that have been floated lately in Europe, I'm kinda glad you are.

  • by Beyond_GoodandEvil (769135) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @10:50AM (#32977868) Homepage
    As one of your founding fathers said: "You have the right to your own opinions, not your own facts".
    Newsflash! Daniel Patrick Moynihan, is not one of the founding fathers. Seriously, put down your copy of Harrison Bergeron and realize that story wasn't a guidebook for the future. Also you need to recognize the difference between thought and action. I as an American(yes that's the correct word) citizen can think all kinds of things, that may or may not be true, and it doesn't impact your life one bit.
  • by Attila Dimedici (1036002) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @11:00AM (#32978014)

    Since it's a provable fact that I am NOT less than you, and nobody else is either

    How would you go about proving that? I believe that all people are of equal value, but I would be hard pressed to prove that as a fact. In truth, I think it would be trivial to "prove" that some people are of less value than others (for certain definitions of "value").

  • by tehcyder (746570) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @11:02AM (#32978032) Journal

    Well, not really "other countries" plural, just one, Italy. Which, as the Knox trial showed, does not have a functioning justice system.

    As with the US, which, as the OJ Simpson trial showed, does not have a functioning justice system.

  • by caveat (26803) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @11:15AM (#32978226)

    You said it yourself, 40% of children failed to reach adulthood. Most numbers that are thrown around are the average at birth; the high infant mortality rates of the past lead to artificially low numbers (e.g. you have 6 babies, 4 of them die within a year but the remaining two live to be 65, your average expectancy is...well, a lot lower than 65, the math [wikipedia.org] is more involved than I want to get atm). In Rome, the average expectancy was 24, but if you made it to 5 years old your new average was 48 [utexas.edu], more than enough time to bear and raise children even if you married in your mid-20s.

    I suspect the early marriage of yore was so you could start producing children as soon as possible, to insure you could bear enough that at least one or two would make it through childhood and get to the point where they could reasonably expect to see 50.

  • by dpilot (134227) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @11:36AM (#32978530) Homepage Journal

    Naah, you can't include Godwin in that until you get to those who believe that Mary was impregnated by a travelling German mercenary.

  • by Alinabi (464689) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @11:56AM (#32978792)

    Italy. Which, as the Knox trial showed, does not have a functioning justice system.

    And that assessment is based on what, exactly? The fact that the court convicted an American based on overwhelming evidence of her guilt?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @12:28PM (#32979184)

    So why should other countries enforce idiotic American laws, such as software patents and continuously extended copyrights ?

  • by Rising Ape (1620461) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @12:29PM (#32979206)

    Well, not really "other countries" plural, just one, Italy. Which, as the Knox trial showed, does not have a functioning justice system.

    Yes, because if a foreign court finds an American guilty of something, it must be non-functional.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @12:40PM (#32979370)

    Moreover, (without reading the bill) what about foreign judgments from actions that didn't occur in the US?

    Say I go to Belarus and violate the libel laws there (also assume the libel laws there are not in accordance with the US 1st Amendment). I'm taken to court there, and the victim of my blather wins. Assume this is in accordance with the law, so no corruption or funny business. Not being from Belarus, but instead from the US, all my assets (money) are in the US. So the winning plaintiff brings the judgment to the US and asks the court to enforce the judgment against me. Still quite reasonable, as I did violate the law of Belarus in Belarus. Does this legislation prevent the enforcement? If it does, why should it? This, to my mind, is a legitimate situation to enforce the judgment.

    Avoiding the 1st Amendment by bringing an action elsewhere shouldn't work and should be stopped, as this would do. But this may be overbroad, essentially infringing on the sovereignty of other nations to apply their laws in their countries to Americans and have that recognized. Comity of nations may often be a comedy, but it isn't always, and the US Congress would do well to remember that and be careful in the drafting.

    IAAL and an American. AC because I only occasionally lurk on /.

  • by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworldNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @12:50PM (#32979506) Homepage
    The moment it DOES - you've lost the right to. The moment you pass me over for promotion because I'm the wrong color even though I'm the best candidate you SHOULD be committing a crime.

    Well that's where we differ. If you let your racist hiring decisions affect how you run your business, I may dislike it but it's your business. You should be able to choose not to hire me because you don't like my skin color, or eye color, or because the your hallucination of St. Peter told your enfeebled brain that if you hired me your moustache would turn green. Freedom is freedom; if you have to qualify it like you want to do it's not freedom anymore.
  • by mounthood (993037) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @12:57PM (#32979620)

    ... this won't help cases like Spamhaus being sued by spammers in the US for defamation and tortious interference.

    Well it's easy to point out unfair legal systems in other countries, but fixing your own.. not so easy.

  • by evilviper (135110) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @01:38PM (#32980190) Journal

    I think Senator Sessions may not like the consequences of starting an international game of "we won't recognize your court judgments because of your 'abusive legal system.'"

    You have no perspective.

    The US already has one-way extradition treaties with numerous countries, including major ones. A situation which is decidedly more abusive than just choosing to ignore a few foreign court judgments. Considering this only applies to speech, it's not going to get anyone in much more of a huff than they already are over the current relationship.

  • by Nimey (114278) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @01:47PM (#32980350) Homepage Journal

    I dunno. It might not be a bad thing for foreign legal systems to start ignoring us when we want to punish their citizens for things they did while not on US soil.

  • Would that mean (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SpaghettiPattern (609814) on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @02:08PM (#32980744)
    Would that mean the US will also cease in trying to strong arm US law onto foreign, sovereign states?
  • by MobyDisk (75490) * on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @02:36PM (#32981190) Homepage

    Nice troll. What it shows is that the city of Los Angeles did not have a functioning police department.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 21, 2010 @09:12PM (#32985466)

    Granted that England's libel laws are unbalanced... ... I bet you can't name three times, in the past 15 years (i.e. the period during which the average senator, or journalist for that matter, might reasonably be expected to have heard of "the internet"), when it's happened.

    That's because it hardly ever does happen. Suing for libel, even in England, is not nearly as easy as journalists like to claim it is (because it casts them as heroes and martyrs).

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